The news of Kevin Ching’s retirement as CEO of Sotheby’s Asia sent shockwaves to the auction industry and art world in April 2021. Rumours of various auction houses approaching him had been swirling since then, with almost every major player in the industry being mentioned. Despite all the speculation, no official announcement had been made – until 22 May.
In a much-anticipated move, Christie’s has announced has announced the appointment of Kevin Ching as Chairman, Asia, with effect on May 24. He will join a regional leadership team under the helm of Francis Belin, President of Christie’s Asia Pacific, and leverage his extensive experience and vast network in the art and luxury industry in Asia to deepen and expand client relationships across the region.
The Value took the opportunity to speak with these two giants of the auction industry.
Kevin Ching (right) and Francis Belin (left) met the media together
When Kevin Ching announced his retirement two years ago, he sat down with The Value for an interview and shared that he was ready to kick back and enjoy life at the age of 65. And now that he has decided to make a comeback, the question on everyone’s mind is: what changed his mind?
He laughed and said, “After some time hiking and catching up on Netflix, I started to miss the auction industry, the time well-spent with collectors, and the days working with talented people. As luck would have it, Christie’s came calling – it was the perfect timing, and we hit it off right away.”
Ching had been the CEO of Sotheby’s Asia for more than a decade, while Francis Belin took over the reins as President of Christie's Asia in 2019. Having been direct competitors for two whole years, did they know each other personally?
“We used to be on opposite sides, and there was a firewall between us. So we knew of each other, but didn’t really interact. It wasn’t until we had a few ‘secret meetings’ that we got to truly know each other on a personal level,” spoke Belin, sharing a knowing smile with Ching.
Kevin Ching had been enjoying life after leaving Sotheby's | Source: Kevin Ching's Instagram
It's an open secret in the industry that many auction houses have been vying for Ching’s attention ever since he left his position at Sotheby’s, particularly those in mainland China. So why did he choose Christie’s?
“I come here for The Henderson,” Kevin Ching joked, before giving a more serious answer. “I’m really looking forward to moving to The Henderson. But in all honesty, what drew me to Christie’s is the house’s commitment to Asia as well as their deep understanding and respect for collectors in the reigion. The positive energy and work atmosphere here are also really rare and refreshing."
Christie's is the only international auction house licensed to hold live auctions in the Chinese mainland, and the opening of their new Shanghai office and art space also shows their dedication to strategically invest in the region.
*Note: Christie’s will relocate its new Asia-Pacific headquarters in Hong Kong, from the current Alexandra House location to The Henderson building in 2024
The Henderson design photo
“A while ago, I met with François-Henri Pinault,” said Belin, referring to the Chairman and CEO of Kering Group, the parent company of Christie’s. “He used the term ‘Maison’ to describe Christie’s, which perfectly captures the idea that Christie’s is more than just a corporation or company. We’re an auction house with cultures and brand values worth cherishing. It’s something we’re all proud of.”
The French word Maison – meaning house or home – is often used by long-standing luxury brands like Saint Laurent to emphasize their dedication to tradition, craftsmanship, and cultural significance. And at Christie’s, it is clear that this commitment to excellence extends to every aspect of the business, from their physical spaces to their relationships with clients.
Christie's Asia Pacific Headquarters' interior design photo
As the President and Chairman of Christie’s Asia, Francis Belin and Kevin Ching will have distinct roles within the company.
“Kevin will be responsible for managing customer relationship, with a particular focus on serving our top collectors across the region.” Belin adds excitedly, “He’ll also be joining our Global Executive Management Group, which is comprised of leading figures from Christie’s offices around the world. Prior to Kevin’s appointment, I was the sole representative from Asia on this team. His addition underscores Christie’s strategic commitment to the Asia-Pacific region.”
Ching echoed Belin's enthusiasm, stating, "My passion for this industry never waned, and I’m thrilled to be working under Francis’ leadership.”
Keving Ching is an avid collector of Chinese works of art, with a special affinity for jade
A seasoned veteran of the auction industry, Kevin Ching actually began his career with a different background altogether.
He has professional qualifications in law from several countries and was a partner at Johnson Stokes & Master, one of Hong Kong's top law firms. Having studied Chinese law, he was sent to Beijing, where he lived for two years and pioneered the firm's entry into mainland China.
Later, he served as a board executive director and group legal counsel of Dickson Concepts (International) Limited, overseeing the Hong Kong-listed company’s legal and general business affairs in the international world of luxury products.
In 2006, the year he turned 50, Ching joined Sotheby’s as CEO of Asia and achieved numerous successes during his tenure, earning the admiration and respect of colleagues and collectors alike.
But Ching’s interests extend beyond the auction industry. He loves Chinese art and literature, practices Chinese calligraphy, and has a special affinity for jade. He is also a member of Hong Kong’s top collector group, Min Chiu Society.